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reed magazine logoAutumn 2007
Prof. Arragon Prof. McKinley Prof. Noble

Professor Rex

Professor Charles McKinley

Professor G. Bernard Noble

A Debate Resolved by Dive-Bombers

As late as the fall of 1941, isolationism was by no means an unfamiliar sentiment on the Reed campus. And the debate was framed in unusually personal terms. A rift between influential faculty members pitted isolationist political science professor Charles McKinley in frequent disputes with pro-interventionists, including political scientist G. Bernard Noble and economics lecturer Frank Munk, who had fled Czechoslovakia with his family in 1939. (Munk was the brother-in-law of Arthur Scott, the noted chemistry professor who served as Reed’s president during the latter years of the war; Scott had used his academic connections to help his sister- and brother-in-law get out of Nazi-controlled Europe.)

Whatever their politics, Reed professors labored to keep students abreast of world affairs through classes such as Contemporary Society, and through the International Club, which met at Noble’s home and sparked passionate discussions. Students followed the battle lines in the Spanish Civil War on a map in Eliot Hall.

On September 1, 1939, when troops of the Third Reich invaded Poland, the Führer’s speech was translated for students who had gathered in the chapel to hear Professor G.R.H. Frederick Peters mock Hitler’s “low German,” recalled Betty Brockman Martin ’41. “They were always translated by our German professors, and the German professors were absolutely disgusted with Hitler’s German,” she said in her oral history account. “We would ask ‘What did he say?’ And the professor would say, ‘He makes the same speech every time.’”

Art Livermore ’40 sat in the chapel and thought hard. “It certainly was a moving experience to hear. Here was a war starting in Europe. I think that everybody, especially the men, was wondering about what this would mean to him. . . . I know that people were concerned that they were going to get drafted.”

Economic issues were front and center. Ethel Fahlen Noble ’40 saw the internationalist faculty members as more attuned to world events than were the students. “I think the faculty in general was very sympathetic to Britain and France and all of those countries in the cause. And they were quite provoked with the Reed students, because the Reed students were not that interested. They felt this was rather an economic battle and that we shouldn’t be involved.”

“It was a very interesting time and there was a considerable amount of tension in the faculty, particularly in the political science and history departments, because it was two against one in a sense—[Rex] Arragon and [G. Bernard] Noble against Charlie McKinley,” said Elizabeth Ann Brown ’40. “Charlie McKinley asserted that these two—Arragon had two daughters, and Noble didn’t have any children—he [McKinley] had two sons who might have to go to war.”

Male Reed students had a heightened awareness of the encroaching war. The Selective Service Act of 1940 made it clear what was at stake, and many were vocal in their objections. “There was considerable discussion,” recalled Tom Coad ’42. “Carl M. Stevens [Class of ’42, who later served in the war and returned to Reed to teach economics from 1954 to 1990] at one point promoted the slogan ‘God save the king. It may be his duty, it’s not ours.’”

December 7 brought the debate to a close.

Going to War


A couple of students and I were standing under an archway at one of the dormitories . . . We were standing out there gabbing. Somebody either came down or yelled down and said, “Pearl Harbor has been attacked!” And we said, “Oh, come on!” We didn’t believe it. It was so far-fetched from anything we ever imagined would happen. And then, of course, we learned it was true.


These things struck me: One, everybody wanted to call their parents in California or back East. Two, there was no joking. And three, a lot of the upperclassmen were crying, and I was too, after a while. But everybody was outside, because it was a nice clear evening.


As far as Reed was concerned, there was no change in terms of personal relationships with friends or classmates, both men and women. I knew a lot of the male students; we ate lunch, we chatted and that kind of thing, as well.

   And then when Pearl Harbor came, I was home. It was a Sunday. We had the radio on. We knew something was brewing and we were, of course, stunned. . . . And my parents were worried, because they were not citizens. They weren’t eligible for citizenship until 1954. Then, of course, they were issuing all sorts of news items—that submarines were spotted on the Oregon Coast and any time we [could] expect landings by parachute . . . On Monday the 8th, I decided I wasn’t going to go to school. So I didn’t go . . . because I wasn’t sure what it was going to be like out on the street.

reed magazine logoAutumn 2007